Well this’ll be a couple of firsts for us here at Barrels and Mash. Not only is it the first official High West review, it’s also the first “Light Whiskey” review we’ve done. Hooray for new things!
Light Whiskey became a thing in the late 60’s and early 70’s as a way for American whiskey producers to compete with the successful lighter stuff coming from the likes of Canada, Scotland, and Ireland. Those whiskeys are distilled at a higher proof and aged in second use barrels, so American companies wanted to do the same thing. They weren’t allowed to call it ‘Straight Whiskey’ (since that would be deceiving) so they went with ‘Light’. Light Whiskey comes off the still higher than 160 proof (the legal limit for Straight Whiskey) and can enter the barrel at higher than 125 proof (again, the legal limit for Straight Whiskey) but it clocks in less than 190 proof, at which point it would be Neutral Grain Spirit (like Vodka…gross). Light Whiskey is also commonly used to mixed into Straight Whiskey to create blended whiskey.
So, on to this particular whiskey. Per the press release “High West discovered 100 stunning barrels of light whiskey at MGP made from corn that was distilled between 1999 and 2001, aged in second-fill barrels.” Before we move on, I would like to mention that I love High West’s transparency on what they do and where they get their juice, it’s so refreshing.
This expression will be available at the High West Distillery at Blue Sky Ranch starting March 19, 2016 and the Saloon & Distiller in downtown Park City, Utah beginning April 16.
Enough talk, let’s see how it is!
Disclaimer: This product was provided at no cost to Barrels and Mash with no strings attached.
Company: High West Distillery
Mash bill: 100% corn
Age: 14 years
ABV: 46% (92 proof)
Released: Spring 2016, Distillery-only
Color: Pale straw
Nose: Much more vanilla than I expected, honey sweetness, and there’s a fresh cut grass vibe that is reminding me I really need to mow the yard. There is a touch of ethanol, but it’s not overpowering or astringent, it kind of blends in and hangs out in the background.
Taste: The taste has everything from the aroma and then some. There is a ton of vanilla, that honey, and some great light straw and grass things. I didn’t get much fruit from the nose but it’s definitely in the taste. Pears stand out the most to me. There are also some sugary sweet notes that remind Kate of Golden Oreos and a nice hit of dry oak towards the back. The mouthfeel is richer than I thought it would be based off the higher distillation proof, and while it’s not velvet by any means, it’s got a nice feel to it.
Finish: The finish is crisp and clean with lingering sweetness in the form of honey and vanilla. Some floral things come out as it evaporates and ultimately there is some oaky spice that is left behind.
Overall: To be honest I wasn’t expecting to care for this. The high distillation and “light”-ness had me worried I was going to be getting a bunch of raw ethanol and astringency, but hey, it was actually pretty damn good! All of the age has really let the flavors marry and come into balance, and any straight ethanol notes are pretty muted and overshadowed by fruit and sweetness. Is it worth $100 a bottle? I don’t know, but it’s damn interesting and pretty tasty!